Artist Of The Week: Ajani Jones Embodies Growth On His Debut Album Dragonfly

The dragonfly, in almost every part of the world symbolizes change and change in the perspective of self realization; and the kind of change that has its source in mental and emotional maturity and the understanding of the deeper meaning of life.

According to dragonfly-site.com, the Dragonfly serves as a metaphor for change and self-realization.

Bring in south-side MC Ajani Jones, whose debut album of the same name embodies these sentiments to a T. Released on July 16, DRAGONFLY is a 13-track, 47-minute essay on growth, adaptation and personal evolution. The final product is the journey that encompasses those three aforementioned, which result in Jones coming to a full actualization of who he is as an artist and human.

The opening track, JANI’S INTRO, kicks off with Ajani Jones conversing with his 11-year-old self, asking what this younger version of himself likes to do for fun. Jones looks back on a delicate time in his life which consisted of playing with roadblocks and hanging out with his cousins. There is a sense of innocence that little Ajani brings in this skit — a sense of purity that is yet to be tainted by the harsh realities of the outside world. As the conceptual arc of Dragonfly develops further, the innocence portrayed in the opening skit is threatened more and more.

Where Ajani Jones shines most on this album is how he grows from the obstacles that stand in his way. On DRAGONS he confronts the terrifying notion of his cousin being recruited by a gang. His flow and delivery hold the sense of urgency that comes with someone being under siege for the first time, often not knowing how to react. However Jones does not fold here; he fends off the temptation associated with his surroundings, keeping his head afloat and his feet planted firmly on the right path.

On LUCID, which pops up in the middle of the track list, Jones goes into detail about a call he received from his mother late one night while he was at the studio. After checking his bank account she was left wondering how Jones would pull through while lacking funds. Jones however appears calm and collected despite the dire circumstances, confident he will pull through once again. As the second leg of the album progresses, the obstacles only continue to pile up.

PLUTO sees Jones and his mother dealing with their house being foreclosed on, as well as loved ones he has lost due to Chicago’s gun violence. On the closing track TIME FLIES, Jones confronts how lost he felt as a kid searching for a god to believe. He also touches on the fractured relationship between the police and the black community. Despite closing out on a somewhat somber note, the underlying notion that Jones has made becomes abundantly clear. He has refused to succumb to all of the obstacles that have stood before him, instead using them as periods of intense personal growth.

Aside from the well fleshed-out, conceptual arc of the album, the beats and lyrics are noteworthy by themselves. Lyrically Jones displays loads of technical skill on every song here. His wordplay is sharp and the pictures he paints holds a quality of vividness that so few MC’s have. His flow and delivery are equally as gripping as he delivers his verses with a robust sense of urgency. The instrumentals shine as well, ranging from bleak and dreary sounding to jazzy and laid-back. Jones did a great job of picking beats that fit the mood he was in on a given track.

On the beginning of DRAGONFLY, Ajani Jones is an 11-year-old kid unaware of the cold, harsh truths that have yet to invite themselves into his life. What comes after is the battle to either grow within himself, or fall victim to the obstacles that are constantly standing in his way. Jones not only chose to grow, he chose to grow triumphantly. How he conceptually realizes that over the course of an album is a true testament to that. That sentiment in combination with the moody production and lyrical dexterity from Jones himself makes for a great album. That is why Ajani Jones is this week’s Artist Of The Week.

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Artist Of The Week: Wilhelm Duke Plays To His Strengths On His New Single “Want Smoke”

One of the things I love most about Ever Evolved is the diversity between all of the artists in the collective. This week’s Artist Of The Week goes to a musician who brings a whole new element to the collective and that would be rapper Wilhelm Duke. A wordsmith with loads of technical skill, Duke peppers his verses with all types of different flow patterns and unique deliveries. He is an artist who brings something new to every track he lands on, always keeping the listener on their toes. He exudes a sly sense of confidence in his voice as he demonstrates a high level of command on the microphone.

All of these strengths come through on his new single WANT SMOKE. Produced by Joey Bandino, the instrumental is bleak and menacing. The bass here is grumbling and authoritative while the percussion is offbeat and hard-hitting. Though minimalistic in scope, Bandino does a wonderful job of creating a dark atmosphere. Duke’s lyricism fits the mood of the instrumental to a T. He explores themes of depression and loss of hope. He also shows a rich sense of variety in his wordplay as his lines range from being animated and funny to witty and braggadocios.

His vocal performance also stands out. Though just 26, Duke has the confidence of a seasoned veteran as he sounds like someone 15 years his senior. His delivery is weighty yet easy-going as he weaves together a myriad of flows and lyrical concepts throughout the track’s duration. There is a lot going on here but Duke makes it look effortless.

At just 1:50 in length, WANT SMOKE is a grimy, lyrical trap banger. This track would work really well either as a stand alone single or as part of a project. To me this track captures the essence of who Wilhelm Duke is as an artist and MC, as he shows a great deal of technical skill, easygoing charisma and rich imagery on this track.

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BeatrixKiddo: Woman Crush Wednesday

Who has been putting in the work other than Emily Ramirez aka BeatrixKiddo, the fierce hard spitting fatale with a style reminiscent of early Eminem or Da Brat! She has dropped three visuals this year already, two of her own records, shot by CVO Films. She dropped STOGIE in mid January and she released BITCHES BE MAD in May. STOGIE is a well paced lyrical turn up track about how she gets down with the cannabis culture, while BITCHES BE MAD is about well, certain people being quite mad.

Both of these projects are a great display of her vocal prowess and edge she has over an instrumental. She is completely unique while leaving the listener in a position to desire more; her music, sound and style demands an increase in content. She also was featured on the Bombay Boyz record AFTER YOU, produced by Rhymster and Frekwenzy, which dropped in the middle of March. Her verse on that record hits hard but was still delivered with a smooth tone giving the track’s mix a lush blend. Its refreshing and inspiring to see more and more women being consistent in the Chicago scene with producing music.

Most recently BeatrixKiddo dropped her single Titled BACK AT IT. She goes bar for bar letting you know what she is capable of while detailing some of the admirable attributes of the Ever Evolved cohorts and affiliates. You can find this new single of hers on Spotify and Apple Music. As we continue to highlight and shine attention upon women in the scene that are simply put, killing it let us remember emcees like BeatrixKiddo. Emcees that are unafraid to portray a sort of feminine heroism that the hip hop industry largely ignores.

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Woman Crush Wednesday: Mother Nature

Consisting of T.R.U.T.H. and Klevah Knox, this duo rising out of Chicago are a force on a mission. Mother Nature aims to inspire fearlessness through peace and love and help raise the frequencies of our collective conscious through thought provoking Hip Hop lyricism. Lending a powerful voice for Black Women, not only in music but politically as they raise awareness on social issues. With their attitude and style they got just enough flare to direct their message effectively.

The two pop into Chicago a few years back with their self titled debut album around 2015. Tracks like SAY HER NAME from that album screams out the oppressive nature toward women of color. Even tracks like MOTHER NATURE and TAKE IT FURTHER note the urgency to help society and earth itself from destruction. T.R.U.T.H. and Klavah Knox somehow place these ideas into party anthems, attractively disguising activism.

Fresh off a more recent release, Mother Nature is riding off the energy from their PRESSURE EP. Promoting the project strong pre release with a music video for SIMPLE, they are back again with more visuals. For the cover title track PRESSURE, they personify the weight of everyday hardships in life and how they push right back in their latest music video. Placing awareness onto law of attraction, relativity, cause and effect, ego, energy and more ideas, Mother Nature continues with their revolutionary ideas and lyricism over raw beats with this project. Follow these minds and be inspired!

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Taking Hits Constantly Gets Offensive

It is an artists duty to tests peoples perspectives, making people react negatively or positively. To either arouse, ponder or offend! In this case the Chicago duo Taking Hits Constantly hopes for the latter. Popping back in with the twelve piece album, HOPE UR OFFENDED, as if they never left but their growth is apparent. Passa Spliff and Liquid G may take their time with their craft but when they do things they do it big! Coming off of a collaboration with Probcause, JR James and a music video following their previous LP MHX, their playlist is flawless.

Every song is produced and written by THC, they keep the foundation of the LP pure bred, inviting a few features cause they do it big; like we said. Starting the album out with a party co hosted by Jaxx Stone on DO WHAT WE DO, giving an idea of the direction this LP is goin. The two experimenting with other genres but sticking to their Hip Hop roots. The funk and soul vibe continues with ROBOTS featuring Nick Ledesma, already trying to push your buttons lyrically. “When I’m on the mic zip it, you know what I like? Different. All these rappers the same. Hip Hop back from the gave? Now wouldn’t that be the day“.

Lyrics preparing you for what Spliff & G got for you with J.R. James who features on 5 tracks in this LP. Getting wild on YOU DON’T WANNA and EVERYTHING, each got the energy to get you hype before cooling down with some R&B flow on LET GO. Continuing onto KEIF BUTTER EVERGLADES, a beat that straight up bumps as the two spit raw verses, they continue the underground Hip Hop energy for remainder of the LP before they cap it off with Vasily on MEMO TO THE YOUNGER ME.

Included in HOPE UR OFFENDED are their previously released tracks THIS IS FOR ME, for which they made a Music Video for, and their release with Probcause and J.R. James CARPET RIDE. Again noting how they take their time with their work. You can hear in their lyrics their wisdom, composure and adaptability to different genres how they have evolved from MHX and their previous work. Style and determination as such keeps them going, offering them opportunities like opening up for Method Man and Redman in August at Joes in Rosemont, Chicago. If you know what is good for you, grab some Taking Hits Constantly for your playlist on Apple Music or their links below.

THC | Soundcloud | TwitterFacebook | Instagram

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Woman Crush Wednesday: Pauna

Digging deeper into the diversity of Chicago artists we find people from different genres, mediums, ethnicity’s and more. This week we highlight Pauna for Women Crush Wednesday following a music video release. Introduced to Pauna at an Ever Evolved Midnight Marauders Open Mic event, she signed up to present her music among other artists. With a very calm demeanor she steps onto the stage and explodes into hip hop verses, impressing the crowd with her speed and word choice.

Residing in Chicago Pauna frequents local shows to support her fellow music artists in her circle of creatives. Getting the chance to perform here and there she recently had events at Ate Music House and HVAC Pub, giving audiences a taste of her unique hip hop style. Every artist personalizes their music to be representation of themselves, differentiating from others. Pauna blends her hip hop with wordplay through languages.

Being from a Serbian background you can hear her mixing English with some Serbian dialect. Most notably in her music video for her single IDIOTI, her native language plays a big role in the track. In the music video you can see how she places her hip hop lyricism and production in a more gothic setting and fashion more attributed to European culture than hip hop. Her most recent music video release for THE WAY YOU TREATED ME AWOKE ME takes on a more natural setting as the beat is more slowed down. Taking on a more soulful R&B vibe, you can see how she can carry into different styles with ease adding to her potential to experiment with different sounds. Keep extra eyes and ears out for Pauna she just might surprise you!

Pauna | Facebook | Instagram

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Artist Of The Week: Musa Reems

As a part of a recent revamp here on the Ever Evolved, we will be doing an Artist Of The Week segment every Friday, shedding light on a Chicago artist doing big things on the local scene. Surely enough, being tasked with writing the first installment of this segment, the second this occurred a certain artist immediately popped into mind: Musa Reems.

A native of the Austin Neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side, Reems comes from humble beginnings. He began rapping at the ripe age of 15 as a part of the Children of I.L.L.I.O.S. artists collective. Reems is also a fan of underground and conscious hip-hop from an early age. He cites spitters such as Black Thought and MF Doom as being among his biggest influences.

Over these last few years, Musa Reems has blossomed into one of the crown jewels of Chicago’s underground hip-hop scene. With his music being featured on numerous blogs, most notably Fake Shore Drive, Lyrical Lemonade and ELEVATOR Magazine among many others. Reems has been steadily building a buzz for himself that extends well beyond the city of Chicago.

Taking directly from his influences, Reems packs his verses with razor-sharp wordplay, colorful personality and vivid imagery covering the harsh realities of Chicago’s inner city. Reems also has a wide array of flows at his disposal and frequently delivers his verses with a poignant sense of passion that makes you believe every word he is saying. Especially lately, all of the technical skill that he possesses has really started to pay off.

During the month of May Musa Reems gifted his fans with his Musa Mondays series, where he dropped a new single every Monday for the entire month. These five cuts showed a staggering amount of diversity when it came to sounds, lyricism and flows. Reems capped off the series by dropping a compilation EP, entitled Musa Mondays, which included the original five cuts plus an additional bonus track for listening pleasure. This 6-song, 14-minute offering just might be Musa Reems’ best release yet as there are some serious highlights on here.

There are some gritty street rap cuts on tracks such as Quarter Juice where Musa does nothing but drop straight bars. The way Reems portrays the bleakness of street life is second to none and he exudes a sense of easy-going confidence on the mic that is contagious. In contrast, there are more stripped back tracks on here such as Not Know, which are far more somber and self-reflective in tone. Lyrically Musa Reems shows an incredible amount of honesty and introspection showing the complexity of being human.

Having recently been published in publications such as 4th Shore Hip Hop, Insomniac Magazine and even the Chicago Reader, it is clear that the world is starting to take notice of this talented Chicago wordsmith. If he keeps grinding the sae way he has been, it should only be a matter of time before he blows up beyond measure.

Musa Reems | Soundcloud | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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Marko Stat$ Breaking Cycles With Latest Releases

Why a rapper gotta die to be famous?” chants Marko Stat$ from Uptown, Chicago ready to spit raw bars in his latest single, capable of changing paradigms! Following up after his single Never Be A Robot, he is keeping true to that ideology. Coming back with Pedal To The Medal and Dead Famous with none other than Aced Spade. Between the two tracks the lyrical versatility is as seasoned as a young veteran would be.

Marko Stat$ takes all his free-styling and storytelling experience into Pedal To The Medal. Starting with a literal story about a police encounter as a teen just learning how to ride a bike. He then blows up on the mic with intent and passion; “Its pedal to the medal for any person who’s bonafide… cycling through the cycles, recyclin’ traditions of bein crooked, had the chance and I took it… I can travel through any gravel and handle...”. So lyrically adept you cannot comprehend every word but the message is clear in bars like, “my propositiong to speak on the proper vision I stand by my composition, I pedal to be consistent“.

The introduction story can be a literal metaphor for the title or, looking deeper, the challenges POC may face reaching their medals, or potential. Unnecessary incidents towards a minors like that can influence you negatively, Marko Stat$ on the other hand is headstrong. “I don’t need me a gold medal to say Im a champ, angels watching my every move, they keepin me in check.” Referring to his late family members, his roots and his identity keeps him in focus.

Continuing with his concept of being true to himself, paving his own path rather than follow anothers image. Going over how hip hop communities are misled in Dead Famous. “Peep the cycle that they suck us in, what the fuck is up, they got us stuck… Rap should be so beautiful, f**k you think I do this for?“. Marko Stat$ is on a mission to wake up the culture and inspire with the lyrics he recites. “I’m trying to take our culture back, its full of vultures they invaded we on full attack. I break the cycle with no rifle, I can move the pack.” With a vision that clear he will not have to wait to die to get famous.

These two releases should remind you of his Marko’s abilities on the mic. He is able to tell a story and follow up with lyrics that aim to inspire, while keeping it fresh n catchy enough to bounce your head to. He also has an impressive ability to bounce between more slower beat and verses to freestyle inspired flow with bullet fast lyricism while still maintaining melodic flow to keep you hooked.

Marko Stat$ | Soundcloud | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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CantBuyDeem’s Chili is a Record Worthy of Chicago’s Highest Praise.

Who could perfectly encapsulate what its like to grow up in the South Side of Chicago, ie Englewood, in the most poignant and palatable manner such as Deem Beamon aka CantBuyDeem? First of all, its lovely how this record paints pictures of poverty in a braggadocios and playful manner, not glorification and idolization but instead, a peer into the life of a young ambitious black man weathering the storm of racial politics growing up in Chicago.

Rather than break down the album song for song lets dive into the philosophy of how impactful CantBuyDeem’s story telling can be. He utilizes lines in his first song Alone like “Home alone, all the time momma got it on her own, only thing she couldn’t afford so I started moving shit, corner boy, corner stone of the city that got him enslaving a n***a, but I still do this shit!… and the grind was all I gained from the gangsters”. As well as “they had a n***a try to set me up for a couple petty hundreds…knowledge is pain, I’m a sponge I just soak up the game, so just in case it gone rain, we say be safe instead of see ya later”. A common phrase from Chicago folk implying that the city is inherently dangerous and random in its criminal activity, to take precaution when traversing the concrete jungle.

To continue on this same train of thought, here is more lines referencing the trials and tribulations of coming up in the disenfranchised neighborhoods in Chicago. In STO he quips “grandma used to send me to the store for her cigarettes, with a written note and they would go and really give me it.” In the song he references having to hide his new Jordans or else he would get in heap of trouble. In Saudi he notes “I used to sell weed to the deacon used to smoke bowls with the teacher“. Then he adds lines like “head leaning on the big booty like a beanbag say she cooking up the ramen I want 3 pack.” The way CantBuyDeem mixes punchlines with a storytelling narrative is honestly remarkable. It makes you vibe while thinking of the human experience. Its something un-quantifiable and quite reminiscent of Kendrick Lamar.

CantBuyDeem likes to pay homage to Chicago slang with track names such as Sto, Allcaps, Saudi, OT, IFU, etc. Another addition in painting the picture of Deem’s colorful upbringing. The title track of the album sits at the core of that picture. In Chili every line Deem spits is directly a reference to a Chicago homie or family member of his. If you really know CantBuyDeem then you might understand some of these phrases and similes he uses to compare those that surround him.

In Character, Deem philosophizes the idea of being steadfast to one’s beliefs as opposed to bending to another’s will. The idea of your character being in question if you were to act like, for lack of a better word, a bitch. In that song he still has an overall narrative he is keeping to except he is describing more general instances with goofy types – Or someone in Chicago that acts afraid and nervous all the time which infers that there must be a good reason why. Acting goofy or scary is a Huge indicator of how to progress forward with an individual. This type of archetype and circumstance has been normalized in Chicago.

CantBuyDeem employs a number of peers including Windy Indie, a violinist who has been making waves with her violin remixes of popular hip hop anthems. Chai Tulani, a Kenyan recording artist with a strong African fan base, unique style and rhythm. Illy Muse, Winnie Page, Sleepy Brotha, and SharmonJarmon, to name a few more! This record is as authentic as it gets to perceiving the harsh realities of Chicago living yet still sitting proud and shining through it all. CantBuyDeem makes his art and his craft come off effortlessly and with ease. Deem, Chicago’s playboy, intellectual and savant extraordinaire, following his single Tony Stark has released another record of potent homegrown intimacy and shocking memories.  CantBuyDeem’s “Chili” is available everywhere.

 

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Roy French Finds A Hi+

Blood is pumping, you are jumpin’ around, actin crazy, dancin’ wildly. Many would consider music a drug and for Roy French, aka MfnYeah, that can be the truth! Anywhere you see him his natural character emits energy that cannot go unnoticed. Unafraid to grab a mic and take control of a crowd as if hip hop and rap is all but second nature. Calling it therapy in the introduction for his music video for his latest release named Hi+ produced by Illa The Illastrator.

Directed by Nish Odak the video brands bright neon colors and lights as Roy French observes some dissociative behavior. This is not unusual for him as creative minds tend to bend the idea of what it is to be expressive. “Can’t feel your down when Im gettin high” he repeats as a catchy hook that can loop in your head without being annoying. “Sometimes I’m fine sometimes I’m not, what do I have to be mad about?” he continues, acting as his own mentor when asking himself hard questions.

Aside from his lyricism his behavior in the video denotes a man on the edge. Seeking an adrenaline rush or simply a dope beat to keep feelin Hi+ and on top. “Fuck my life Lets do if for the thrill, I feel like my death gonna be so kill”. Creative minds tend to be disturbed as the world around them does not challenge them enough, so they adopt chaos to keep their minds stimulated, to keep going. Roy French continues growing and persevering, uncovering deeper layers of himself and his creative boundaries and it shows through work like this!

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